Julius Peppers might be wearing a Patriots uniform in 2010. According to NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan, the Patriots are the front-runner to sign the defensive end.
"I still think the Patriots are the team that had the most interest in him, and they struggled in the pass rush last season," Kirwan said during a live chat Monday on NFL.com. "Bill Belichick has had great success with the hybrid players, like Willie McGinest, who can play in both three- and four-man fronts. The Redskins are notorious for spending money. But I think Peppers wants to play for a playoff contender, along with making a ton of money."
Last week, Peppers voiced his ongoing frustration with the Carolina Panthers and his interest in playing for another team. The Panthers have until Feb. 25 to use their franchise tag on him, or he'll become an unrestricted free agent.
Peppers could help fill some of the Patriots' holes. Last season, New England's defense was ranked fifth in the NFL for points allowed (17.8 per game), 13th for rushing yards allowed (110.5 per game) and tied for 23rd in sacks (31). The Patriots ranked as the worst defense of the playoff contenders, which was evident in their season-ending loss to the Ravens when Ray Rice ran for 159 yards on 22 carries.
At 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, Peppers is adept at pressuring quarterbacks, something the Patriots lacked with any consistency in 2009. Peppers logged 10 1/2 sacks this past season (after posting 14 1/2 in 2008) and has registered double-digit sacks in six of his eight seasons. In his career, he has totaled 309 tackles, 81 sacks, six interceptions and scored two defensive touchdowns.
The Patriots could even use Peppers as a linebacker. Last year, he told NFL.com that he wanted play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Peppers also would bring experience to a defense that is still in transition. He played in a Super Bowl, is a five-time Pro Bowler and has been part of five top-10 defenses and two top-5 systems.
Will that not be enough for Belichick and Co. to bring him to Foxboro?
Peppers is 30 and has publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the Panthers over his contract and the defensive direction of the team. His attitude may be more than the Patriots want to take on after the Adalius Thomas drama. Peppers probably could fill Thomas' position on the field, but does Belichick want to replace one locker-room problem with another potential disruption?
Another issue is money. Vince Wilfork's contract situation still needs to be sorted out and Peppers won't come cheap. His salary in 2009 was $16.6 million, ranking him third on the list of highest-paid NFL players behind Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb.
There's no doubt Peppers is a talented player, but some questions remain about everything else. The Patriots will need to get the right answers before rolling the dice with him.
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